The Mystery and Magic of a Made-up Word


I was thrilled to hear that the Providence Journal wanted to publish my piece about wishing for a snowy Super Bowl.

But there was one glitch.

“Muckle?” Ed Achorn asked me on the phone. Ed is the Editorial Pages Editor at the Journal. “It’s not in the dictionary,” he said.

I laughed. I knew “muckle” wasn’t in the dictionary. I had looked it up, too. But that didn’t stop me. In my description of how my friends and I loved to play football in the snow as kids, I had left “muckle” in:

“We would hike up to the fields at La Salle Academy or Mount Pleasant High School, mark the end zones with our coats, and muckle each other until our cheeks and fingers were numb.”

I explained to Ed that “muckle” was the word we used when we really wanted to hammer the guy with the ball. Muckling was tackling and then some. Muckling could land you in the ER.

I offered to re-write the sentence, but Ed had a better idea. He simply referenced in parentheses that “muckle” was a “kid verb denoting violent tackling.” I’m glad he did. The piece had 570 words, but none hit home more than “muckle.”

A retired Providence firefighter emailed me: “Muckle,” he wrote. “When I saw that word, my face broke into a broad smile.” He told me how he had played football in the snow at Neutaconkanut Park in the Silver Lake section of Providence.

Perhaps “muckle” was a local colloquialism, I thought. Then another emailed arrived: “I found myself transported back 45 years to Lindell Lot in St. Louis where there was plenty of mucklin’ going on in the early 70s.”

So muckling wasn’t regional. Turns out it wasn’t exclusive to football, either. A good friend told me how a girl muckled him behind a dumpster when he was in 4th grade. Sounded better than getting muckled on the gridiron.

If “muckle” were in the dictionary, what would its etymology be? Maybe a combination of muscle and tackle. Or mug and tackle. Or mud and knuckle. Or muck and kill. That seems about right, especially in bad weather.

I gave my son, Evan, the backstory on “muckle” before he read the column. He texted me later: “Had you not said that, I would still 100% understand the usage.”

High praise for a word, especially one you won’t find in the dictionary.

With thanks to Ed Achorn of The Providence Journal.

Rooting For Snow At The Super Bowl


As published in the Providence Journal, January 29, 2014.

Now that the Patriots have been eliminated from the Super Bowl chase, which team am I rooting for? The Broncos? The Seahawks? Neither. I’m pulling for the Farmers’ Almanac.

Long before the days of Doppler radar and storm modeling, almanacs served up weather prognostications based on byzantine mathematical and astronomical formulas. The Farmers’ Almanac is still at it today and, as early as last August, predicted a stormy, snowy Feb. 2 for East Rutherford, N.J., where this year’s Super Bowl will be played.

Go, Farmers’ Almanac! I hope we see Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel on the MetLife Stadium sidelines, hyperventilating about snow accumulations.

Holding the Super Bowl outdoors at a cold climate site is the latest stroke of marketing brilliance for an event that has become a virtual national holiday. It wasn’t always that way.

In its humble debut, the Super Bowl was simply known as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10. The halftime show was two college marching bands. There were only 61,946 spectators in the stands, hardly a sell-out at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Forty-seven years later, the Super Bowl is the most watched annual television program in the United States. The game attracts more than 100 million TV viewers worldwide. This year, 30-second ads cost up to $4.5 million.

NFL marketers built the Super Bowl franchise with great teams — the Steelers and the 49ers, the Cowboys and the Patriots. They built it with halftime shows that had star power and broad appeal. Super Bowl I’s marching bands have been eclipsed by U2, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, and an infamous wardrobe malfunction. And now the NFL has pulled another rabbit out of its helmet: the weather.

By playing the game in the Northeast on the first weekend in February, the NFL has generated incremental buzz. For weeks, in addition to the usual pre-game chatter and blather, blogs and sportswriters and ESPN commentators have asked: “What if it snows?”

The 10-year-old in many of us knows the answer: “Game on!” Because when you’re a kid, there’s nothing like playing football in the snow.

I grew up in the Elmhurst section of Providence, where the houses sit on small lots — not much room for running to daylight. There was an empty lot at the corner of Rankin and Moorland, but when we tried to play there, the owners shooed us away faster than you could say “Pete Rozelle.” So we ended up playing touch football in the street, telephone pole to telephone pole.

Unless it snowed or rained.

When that happened, playing tackle football was irresistible. We would hike up to the fields at La Salle Academy or Mount Pleasant High School, mark the end zones with our coats, and “muckle” (a kid verb denoting violent tackling) each other until our cheeks and fingers were numb . . . and then muckle each other some more.

Tackle football in the elements had such appeal that my best friend and I once flooded his backyard on a sunny autumn day just so we could play in the mud. His parents were not amused.

This coming Sunday, I hope the game is close, the ads are entertaining, and the halftime show grooves.

And should snow fall from the heavens? There will be a lot of kids and former kids, including this one, who think the conditions are ideal.


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